This is the Life: Summertime, and the reading is easy

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Summertime. Long, hot days. Cool, refreshing nights. And time for reading.

I don’t know if the latter applies as it once did, when it seemed like one of the rites of spring included selecting books for the vacation months. But it should. What better way to prepare to maximize one’s enjoyment of holidays than to plan reading material?

I read mostly non-fiction and crime fiction, so I like to balance out those interests. I have already been delighted by several memoirs in the lead-up to July and August, and they have been so satisfying that I worry that my choices for summer might not measure up to them. In truth, my summer reading began when I was planning our Easter trip to New Orleans. Because the trip was in part inspired by the live music — blues and jazz, mostly — that I knew we would find, I began to read about those musical forms and soon found myself engrossed in a biography about Alan Lomax, the famed collector of folk music. Lomax followed in his father’s footsteps by making field trips to rural areas, where he would seek out players and singers of traditional regional music. His massive collection of recordings can be found on the Internet in their entirety.

It was during the reading of that biography, The Man Who Recorded the World, that I stumbled across the first volume of Bob Dylan’s fabulous memoir, Chronicles. Completely different from any memoir I have read, Chronicles is a unique and very selective glimpse into the life of my generation’s unofficial poet laureate. Dylan’s tales of his early years as a folk singer, before he even considered writing his own lyrics, are insightful and a rare look at a man who had to develop a strong devotion to privacy in order to maintain any sense of self after the Vietnam War generation dubbed him a savior who would lead it to the promised land. It was a role for which he had zero interest and even less preparation.

Dylan’s descriptions of first hearing Woody Guthrie were funny and enlightening. He became completely enamored of Guthrie’s music, so much so that for a period he performed no other songs.

Reading Chronicles set me off on another mission at used book stores to find Guthrie’s brilliant Bound for Glory, which I am now reading. It is quite brilliant and I was inspired to rewatch the film version from 1976 in which David Carradine played Guthrie. It was especially satisfying because only a few weeks earlier we had watched, again, Henry Fonda’s tour de force role as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. As a young man I went through a John Steinbeck phase, reading most of his works, and The Grapes of Wrath remains one of my all-time favourites.

I like to juggle a few books at once, which lets me take time to savour when I come across something particularly brilliant. On the weekend, I finally finished reading Words Without Music, a memoir by the composer Philip Glass. I don’t know how I first came across Glass’s work, but after I heard the soundtrack to the movie Koyaanisqatsi, the first of Godfrey Reggio’s brilliant trilogy, I was hooked. I have a large collection of Glass recordings — operas, soundtracks, piano solos and ensemble music — and after a quarter century of listening I find my heart beating faster when I listen. Words Without Music is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read. A compendium of writings about the composer, Writings on Glass, now sits by my bedside.

Recent visits to bookstores have left me with more to read. Venice: A New History awaits, as does Da Vinci’s Ghost and yet another biography, Cecilia Bartoli: The Passion of Song. Bartoli is a glorious singer of opera and I look forward to it. I am also eager to acquire of Call Me Debbie, the new autobiography of Deborah Voigt, one of my very favourite opera singers.

While I don’t have a selection of crime fiction novels ready to balance out my summer reading plans, the search is always fun. In recent years I have found great satisfaction from European writers. From Italy, detective mysteries by Andrea Camilleri and Ginarico Carofiglio have provided me with hours of pleasure. These wonderful writers I can highly recommend. More recently, I devoured the 10-novel series by the Swedish couple, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, who paved the way for fine books such as Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels.

So much to read. So much pleasure to anticipate. Summertime, when the reading is easy.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.


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